Category Archives: Disaster Stories

So, he wrote The Da Vinci Code. What else can he do?


A review of Inferno, by Dan Brown

@@@ (3 out of 5)

So, today’s subject is Dan Brown.

What can you say about a man who has sold more than 200 million copies of just six novels? Clearly, the guy has got something going for him. And whatever else you might say about The Da Vinci Code and its successors in the Robert Langdon series, lots of people read them.

Far be it from me to advance some psychosexual explanation for this surprising phenomenon. The numbers don’t lie. I can only wonder why.

OK, admittedly, I’ve read all those Dan Brown novels. Yes, I admit it. And I even found the suspense in the first couple of them to be compelling. Brown’s early novels — Digital Fortress and Deception Point — were fascinating to me. And I couldn’t wait to get to the end of The Da Vinci Code because the historical mystery was brilliant and the suspense was excruciating.

Inferno, not so much. Although there were many surprises in store for me in the book’s final chapters, I’d already figured out some of the fast ones Brown was going to pull as he thundered toward the climax. Because, often enough, it’s possible to foresee the plotline based not on what an author writes as on what he doesn’t write. That sometimes smacks of manipulation, which invariably makes me uncomfortable.

Now, just in case you want to know what Inferno is about, listen up: Robert Langdon finds himself in a hospital bed in Florence with a raging headache and a case of short-term amnesia. He can’t remember a thing about the past three days, and he doesn’t have a clue why the back of his head is bandaged or how or why he got to Florence. Sienna Brooks, his physician — a lovely young blonde woman, of course! Hollywood must be appeased — tells him he’s been shot in the head. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a shadowy character who runs a mysterious and powerful global organization from his headquarters on a massive converted yacht anchored somewhere in the Adriatic. He appears to be mixed up in Langdon’s misadventure in some way, but it’s clear we won’t figure out how until we’ve read further in the book. Pretty soon another mysterious character — a spike-haired woman in black leather, somewhat resembling Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo — appears and starts shooting up the hospital, killing one of the doctors. Langdon and Brooks flee to her nearby flat, where . . . well, the plot thickens there. You get the point, right?

I’ll say this much for Brown: his writing seems to have improved a bit since Angels & Demons, and the man does do his research. Dante Alighieri, whose work is the centerpiece of this novel, emerges from the pages of Inferno as a living force in Italy and among scholars the world over. And, as usual in his later, blockbuster career, Brown presents himself in the mode of docent at an art museum, pointing out one priceless cultural treasure after another as the action shifts from Florence to Venice to Istanbul.

You’ll love this book if you like that sort of thing — a travelogue for art aficionados dressed up as a novel. For my money, though, Inferno was too predictable (knowing Langdon from his previous outings), the art commentary was boring, and Brown’s treatment of overpopulation — another theme that figures prominently in the book — was downright preachy. All in all, I found Inferno just a fairly good read. Caveat emptor. 


Filed under Disaster Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

In a thriller, is suspense its own reward?

A review of Impact by Douglas Preston

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Start out on the coast of Maine with a brilliant 20-year-old Princeton dropout and her less-brilliant friend puzzling over a meteor shower, cut to CalTech where office politics and other shenanigans are in full flower at the National Propulsion Facility, add one former CIA agent dispatched to the backwoods of Cambodia by the President’s National Science Advisor, mix in a tweedy contract killer, and pretty soon you’re caught up in a pulse-pounding tale that will drag you irresistibly toward an astounding conclusion. And even there you’ll find an ironic twist that will bring a smile to your face.

It’s all totally preposterous, of course. The premise on which Impact is based is a lame refugee from science fiction. The ex-CIA guy — a recurring character in some of Preston’s novels — is a little much to be believed. And that 20-year-old kid is miles off the probability charts. Somehow, though, it doesn’t matter.

What matters, really, is that Impact is nonetheless a ripping good read. Douglas Preston has demonstrated once again his surpassing ability to structure a book that works really well. He is clearly a master of the thriller genre, and if his plot devices are sometimes far-fetched and his characters a little short of believable, so what? Impact is a lot of fun.

Douglas Preston is a best-selling writer with five novels and five nonfiction books of his own under his belt, as well as 16 other books co-authored with others, all but one of them suspense novels written with Lincoln Child. He is the brother of Richard Preston, a best-selling author and writer for The New Yorker.

ISBN-10: 0765317680

ISBN-13: 978-0765317681


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What will it take to wake up the world to global warming?

A review of Primitive by Mark Nykanen

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

A middle-aged model is kidnapped by a community of environmental activists so passionately convinced of the imminence of climate chaos that they’ve established a Stone Age community in a snow-bound Northern wilderness. Filled with righteousness and possessing a terrifying, top-secret CIA report about global warming, they begin using her as the centerpiece of an elaborately complicated campaign to manipulate the news media in hopes of bringing the world to its senses. Which, of course, they do, but not before a U.S. Army anti-terrorist squad, the Animal Liberation Front, a crazed contract killer, a young rape survivor, a Seymour Hersh clone, two man-eating cougars, several adorable children, and the Canadian Army all become wrapped up in the tale.

So, now you know the beginning, the middle, and the end of this Mark Nykanen thriller. But, knowing even this, you have no sense of the experience of reading this nail-biting story of suspense. Improbable though the story may be, flawed though it undoubtedly is, Primitive is a skillfully written book. There’s no getting around it: Mark Nykanen knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat.

ISBN-10: 0982175647

ISBN-13: 978-0982175644


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